This week’s releases include: a bird watching adventure; a Canadian hockey movie; a quality prison drama; a spy thriller; an exceptional haunted house story; a look at crime in L.A., a fantastic sci-fi narrative; a grown-up bully; a cold war documentary; an extraordinary biopic; a mischievous monkey finds a new way to make trouble; a baseball movie; and a band of misfits.

The Big Year on blu-rayThe Big Year (Blu-ray)
Three men (Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson) from very different walks of life – facing a mid-life crisis, a work-life crisis and a no-life crisis – engage in the biggest competition of their lives. They undertake an unforgettable trek through North America, engaging in hilarious and bizarre adventures and forming friendships that will last a lifetime.

One would think it impossible that a seemingly boring hobby like bird watching could be turned into an engaging movie, but director David Frankel accomplishes the impossible. The film is not only charming, it’s funny and even a little exciting. There is a surprising bit of drama built in to The Big Year, considering its subject matter. In addition, the competitiveness between bird watchers as they race against each other to expand their lists and get a glimpse of rare species before they leave their resting spots is unexpected. Finally, John Cleese’s narration is an added source of enjoyment as he provides facts of nature and guides the viewer through the intricacies of the activity.

Special features include: an extended version of the film; 12 deleted scenes; “The Big Migration” featurette; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)

Breakaway on blu-rayBreakaway (Blu-ray)
Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani) has the talent to be one of the nation’s top hockey players, but he has one problem: his father’s devotion to work and family forbids him to play. Now, with the help of an unlikely new coach (Rob Lowe) and the coach’s ‘off-limits’ kid sister (Camilla Belle), and in spite of being constantly undermined by his entitled cousin (Russell Peters), he’s putting together an unlikely all-Sikh hockey team behind his father’s back. But when his team makes an unexpected run for the Cup, inspiring the entire Sikh community, Rajveer has to choose between playing on or respecting his father’s wishes.

This is your typical underdog story, but David is brown and Goliath is a bunch of prejudice guys on skates. It’s also an interracial love story and an ethnic comedy. In other words, it’s trying to be too many things and unfortunately doesn’t present any of them especially well. Breakaway is in need of more hockey, as the included highlights fail to create the emotional intensity associated with fans of the sport. Nonetheless, the incorporation of a Bollywood-style courting fantasy was an interesting first for the genre.

Special features include: a making-of featurette. (Alliance Films)

Cell 211 on DVD Cell 211 (DVD)
The story of two men on different sides of a prison riot – the inmate leading the rebellion (Luis Tosar) and the young guard trapped in the revolt (Alberto Ammann) who poses as a prisoner in a desperate attempt to survive the ordeal.

This film is gripping from start to finish. It drags viewers through the lows and deeper lows of being trapped in an unpredictable situation in constant fear of being killed. The twists and turns are volatile, but not unbelievable. The prison authority attempts to juggle all of the life-and-death concerns with which they must deal, while the SWAT team stands at a ready. Tosar’s character is headstrong and intimidating, able to instill fear in his subordinates with a single look; and if that is not enough, he coolly uses physical coercion to convince them of his being correct. Ammann, on the other hand, faces a drastic transformation from the beginning to the end of the movie.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

The Double on blu-rayThe Double (Blu-ray & DVD combo pack)
When a United States Senator is brutally murdered, the evidence points to a Soviet assassin code-named Cassius, who was long-thought to be dead. Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere), a retired CIA operative is paired with Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a young FBI agent, to stop Cassius before he finds his next target.

This movie’s trailer reveals an integral plot point, but it turns out that’s not as a big a deal as it seems. The same twist is unveiled within the first 30 minutes of the movie. There are many more secrets with which to contend and the biggest is saved for the concluding climax. At this point, the spy thriller aficionado may figure out the last piece of the puzzle, but the average viewer may still be taken aback.

The performances are adequate though a little dry. Gere shows little emotion, even when it’s called for; and he’s difficult to believe in the role since it just doesn’t seem compatible with his current demeanour. Grace provides a little humor to the story, which he is able to balance with a stalwart determination to find the truth.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Michael Brandt and writer/producer Derek Haas; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and trailers. (VVS Films)

Dream House on DVDDream House (DVD)
Successful publisher Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quit a job in New York City to relocate his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two girls to a quaint New England town. But as they settle into their new life, they discover their perfect home was the murder scene of a mother and her children, and the entire city believes it was at the hands of the husband who survived. When Will investigates the tragedy, his only lead comes from Ann Paterson (Naomi Watts), a neighbour who was close to the family that died.

When things begin to occur around the house, it’s difficult to determine whether you’re watching a haunted house movie or a home invasion picture. It turns out Dream House is neither. It delivers a completely unexpected plot twist that is surprisingly unique. The house goes through three remarkable transitions: from cheerful to rundown to falling apart. Craig’s character is far more complex, going through a number of phases as Will begins to understand what is happening in his home. Watts censors most of what she says, but communicates much more through her expressions – a skill in which she is well schooled.

Special features include: interviews; “Building the Dream House,” “Burning Down the Dream House” and “The Dream Cast” featurettes; and trailers. (Entertainment One)

Grand Canyon on blu-rayGrand Canyon (Blu-ray)
When a lawyer’s (Kevin Kline) car breaks down in a dangerous Los Angeles neighbourhood, a tow-truck driver (Danny Glover) arrives just in time to save his life. The two men begin a deep friendship that sets off a chain of unsettling and surprising events involving their families and friends for years to come.

Produced in the early ‘90s in the midst of the Rodney King uprisings, this film attempts to paint a portrait of what it was like to live in L.A. It shows the rich suburbanites are no longer permitted to ignore the crime and degradation in their city. Meanwhile, things are only becoming worse in the ghetto and it’s spreading. Though 20 years old, this movie is practically a recruitment video for the Occupy Wall Street protests. It clearly illustrates the discrepancies between the haves and have nots – before becoming a feel good picture about making friends across status lines.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

In Time -on blu-rayIn Time (Blu-ray)
In the future, time has become the ultimate currency and genetic alteration has allowed people to stop aging at 25 years old.  Upon reaching 25, a one-year countdown begins and in order to stay alive everyone must work to buy themselves more time or die within that year.  The rich can buy their way out of the situation, while the rest are left to negotiate for immortality. When a struggling young man, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), comes in contact with a “millionaire,” he is gifted more time than he can imagine.  Falsely accused of murder, Will is a fugitive on the run and becomes determined to bring down the entire system by any means possible.

People often refer to the value of time, but this movie takes that idea to its literal extreme. The technology behind any of these concepts is unfathomable, though having a constant nightlight could be convenient. Even stranger is appearing to be the same age as your parents and their parents despite the significant age differences. On the other hand, it allowed for the casting of many of Hollywood’s hottest twenty-somethings in one film. Timberlake’s smooth, calculated performance allows his character to take on societal norms. Even when he doesn’t fit in, he does. Amanda Seyfried is quite forgettable, almost always looking as if someone surprised her in the dark. Wilde is able to show a softer side of herself, while Vincent gets to play an annoying socialite similar to his Mad Men character.

Special features include: deleted and extended scenes; “The Minutes” featurette; and a digital copy of the film. (Fox Home Entertainment)

Joe Somebody on DVDJoe Somebody (Blu-ray)
Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen) is a mild-mannered single dad who’s overworked and underappreciated at the office. But when the company bully knocks him down in front of his daughter, this nobody decides to become “Joe Somebody” and kick some butt. With the support of his co-worker Meg (Julie Bowen) and some hilariously helpful training from a kung-foolish martial arts pro (Jim Belushi), Joe might score a knockout.

One of the things to look forward to when graduating high school is escaping the school bully. It seems unthinkable that someone in your adult life could hit you for no reason, but that’s the situation with which Joe has to deal. His challenge to a fight before work is not much more mature, but if it’s already gone this far with the regression why not go all the way. This was produced shortly after Allen’s Home Improvement heyday came to a close, instilling some of the same lighthearted humour. Belushi is a welcome addition to the cast, providing an extra source of comedy.

Special features include: deleted scenes; a making-of featurette; “Scarett’s Method”; and the trailer.  (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Love, Hate & Propaganda – The Cold War on DVDLove, Hate & Propaganda – The Cold War (DVD)
After World War 2, two powerful blocs – a democratic and capitalist west led by the United States and a communist world dominated by the Soviet Union – faced each other. Each side claimed the other was an implacable ideological foe bent on the destruction of their way of life. This battle would never produce direct armed confrontation between the two countries, but it mobilized minds as never before.

Special features include: “Bomb Shelters: CBC The Journal, January 1990”; “Opening up Diefenbunker: CBC The Journal, January 1994”; “Kids on the Moon – Apollo 11 Landing, CBC News, July 1969”; “Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas: United Fruit Company/CIA, 1950s”; “Fall Out Shelter (The McCallum Family) & Emergency Measures Organization (11 steps to survival)”; and “Duck and Cover: US Civil Defense Film, 1951.” (Entertainment One)

Malcolm X on blu-rayMalcolm X (Blu-ray)
The biopic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington).

Special features include: commentary by writer/director/producer Spike Lee, director of photography Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruth Carter; deleted scenes with introduction by Lee; “By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X”; Oscar-nominated 1972 feature-length documentary Malcolm X; theatrical trailer; and 40-page booklet. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

It’s not surprising director Spike Lee asked Norman Jewison to hand him the reins to this picture. It is the culmination of all his works up to this point in his career. Malcolm X was the film that turned Lee into a real filmmaker; he took all the lessons he learned on his previous projects and produced a quality look into one man’s turbulent life that spanned a lifetime. It’s almost shocking he is able to so effectively depict so many events and influences in a 200-minute film. Washington is outstanding, embodying the role to near irrecognizability. In fact, while watching the 1972 documentary from which most of the film’s public addresses are taken, Washington’s mannerisms are almost identical to the man he portrays. The uncanny similarity results in an incredible portrait in history.

Monkeybone on blu-rayMonkeybone (Blu-ray)
After a car crash sends repressed cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) into a coma, he and the mischievous Monkeybone, his hilarious horny alter-ego, wake up in a wacked-out way station for lost souls. When Monkeybone takes over Stu’s body and escapes to wreak havoc on the real world, Stu has to find a way to stop him before his sister pulls the plug on reality forever.

In 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit made waves by combining live action and animation for an entire feature-length film. Monkeybone is not quite as revolutionary, but the sketched sidekick is cute. Monkeybone is the main animation, while the other characters are simply cartoon-like. Fraser’s dual personalities are in sharp contrast to each other, one being passive and the other exaggerated. Chris Kattan portrays a character less dramatic than his typical roles, though it’s still a sensational and amusing performance. The movie is over-the-top from beginning to end, featuring a twisted purgatory of unusual and disturbing characters that often resemble a nightmare.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

The Scout on blu-rayThe Scout (Blu-ray)
A desperate Yankee scout (Albert Brooks) will do anything to sign a new prospect. Banished to Mexico to search for talent, he discovers the greatest young ball player (Brendan Fraser) he’s ever seen. But once he gets him back home, he finds this new recruit has a few unexpected problems that may just jeopardize both their jobs.

There are no special features. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Spork on DVDSpork (DVD)
Spork (Savannah Stehlin) is a thirteen year-old, frizzy-haired outcast who’s not afraid to stand out despite the pressures around her to fit in. Luckily, a junior high dance competition provides the perfect opportunity for her unique talents to shine through.

Children are saddled with the most unfortunate nicknames, which often follow them into adolescence. Spork is the tale of a girl with a regrettable but descriptive nickname who learns to set the stage afire. More than an underdog story, this movie is about being yourself. She’s repeatedly rejected and dejected, but it never lasts long because she’s surrounded by people who accept and love her. Stehlin’s transformation for the role is impressive, disregarding any sense of teen vanity or self-consciousness. Most of the humour emerges from Spork and her fellow outcasts standing up to their bullies, though not all of it. Writer/director J.B. Ghuman Jr.’s feature-length directorial debut is a solid teen comedy for the not-so-popular kids that doesn’t try as hard Napoleon Dynamite.

There are no special features. (Entertainment One)

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